Why We Don’t Have A Better Press Corps: Howie Kurtz, Helen Thomas, and Marty Peretz edition
I’m preparing a belated longer post on Marty Peretz latest self revelation as a man no civil society should acknowledge.
But for now, I just want to post w/out much comment the last graf from today’s Guardian article on objections emerging at Harvard to the notion of accepting the donatino that would create an academic chair named in Peretz’s honor. Chris McGreal, a Guardian Washington correspondent asked the correct question: given the storm that blew away Helen Thomas’s career over her nasty and foolish comment about Jews going home to Germany and Poland, why wasn’t the American media roasting Peretz for his much more grotesque claims — as in his statement that “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to other Muslims,” and that “this is a statement of fact and not value.”
That question is, of course even more pointed when you realize, as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, that Peretz is vicious and broad sprectrum bigot who has been spewing this crap for decades. Most important from my point of view, is that he has been doing so from his position as owner of an influential opinion magazine, which means that Peretz’s contemptible behavior has significant potential impact on real people’s lives. Again, see TNC for a taste of the kind of journalism Peretz presided over, and its implications for actual human experience.*
So why not? Let’s turn to the man who may well be the top arbiter of the Fifth Estate’s behavior within the inner circle of Washington Village media. Here’s The Guardian’s reporting on Mr. Howard (“he playing dead”) Kurtz’s reaction to Peretz’s outbursts:
Howard Kurtz, the media editor of the Washington Post, was among those journalists critical of Thomas, suggesting that she should “go home” to Lebanon and that she is a heroine to Hezbollah. Asked why the mainstream media has largely ignored Peretz’s views over the years, Kurtz replied: “I’m afraid I just haven’t focused on the subject.”
Graham Greene in Our Man in Havana caught the essence of what’s going on here in a passing conversation between Jim Wormwold — a vacuum-cleaner salesman pretending ineptly to be a spy — and Captain Segura, the Cuban policeman who suspects him of potentially fatal fecklessness. Late one evening, Segura educates Wormwold on the ways of the real world: there are those who are members of the tortureable class — Greene had a gift for the diamond-cut phrase — and those who aren’t.
Peretz is such an untouchable, and he trades on his membership in the in group which protects even its brutes, the non-torturable elites for whom actual damage is always someone else’s problem. Kurtz’s studied and careful assertion of meticulously nurtured ignorance is just how its done: get used to it, folks. TheVillage protects its own.
Peretz is beyond shame at this point in his life, I feel pretty sure, though I still believe that the proper response of anyone or institution that wishes to be thought civilized is to shame and shun him.
But I’m a fool and I still hold out hope against all evidence that a media that once aspired to”comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable might yet find a way to express outrage at the thought of justifying the murder of innocents. (If that seems strong, ask yourself what “Muslim life is cheap” actually means.)
I should know better by now.
Which is why Mr. Kurtz cannot bring Marty Peretz into sharp focus. And that is all ye need to know about why our democracy is in such trouble.
*All of which is to say, no sympathy here for notions that, as Sullivan has argued, we should give Peretz a pass for his contemptible and cowardly attempts to relegate 1.5 billion people to the role of the expendable other, just because he published some of his favorite Harvard students writing “edgy” stuff, nor for Jack Shafer’s “that’s just Marty being Marty” apologetic. Jack argues that if we choose to contemn Peretz for his, in essence, incitements to violence now and over a decades-long career, “let’s make ourselves uncomfortable by also acknowledging his contribution to journalism and thought.”
When your contributions to journalism includes the trifecta of a completely fabricated attack on black New Yorkers in the notorious Glass taxi piece, (see TNC above); the credulous and quantitatively illiterate pimping of the attack on people of African descent the world round represented by The Bell Curve, and the actually deadly destructive coverage of the Clinton health care reform, I’m afraid I can’t feel uncomfortable at the thought that public discourse and America itself would have been better off if Marty Peretz had not completed his one true success in life: marrying enough money to indulge his vainglorious proprietorship of TNR.
Image: Hieronymous Bosch, “Table of the Mortal Sins (Hell),” 1500-1525.